Just this morning I walked into The Anderson Dining Hall at Chatham University for lunch, and two volunteers from PennEnvironment were seated at a table asking students to write letters to Governor Wolf about Pennsylvania’s contribution to climate change. The representatives and I got to talking about what makes Pennsylvania “the nation’s third largest emitter of carbon pollution”. We talked about coal-fired coke plants that are spewing sulfur dioxide in our area and how they are failing to meet federal safe air standards. I was aware of the Clairton Coke Plant because because I had read an article about it in another class this semester. It seemed that the stars were aligned and that the air quality pertaining to Pittsburgh would be a great topic to discuss on this week’s blog.
After my discussion with the young men manning the table for PennEnvironment, I decided to do some research on my own. The first thing that came up on my Google search was an article from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette from February of 2015. Sad to say that over a year later, the situation remains the same. The 2015 article reported that Clairton Coke Works was not complying with the policies set forth by the Clean Air Act. It is just mind boggling that an article written over a year ago about this air quality problem is still looming– “when concerning particulate matter (PM 2.5)” we are the “sixth most polluted city in the United States” Issues with this serious problem continue as always and no actions have taken place either by The Allegheny Health Department or the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). CMU professor, Albert A. Presto, developed the air quality map below that he presented at a forum free to the public last year— again, a year has gone by and not action.
Going back to my conversation with PennEnvironment…. this organization released a Toxic Ten Report. It names the top ten coal burning facilities in Allegheny County and discusses how the carbon emitted into the environment can directly affect the nearby residents. A recent study done by the University of Pittsburgh found that “Allegheny County residents live with more than twice the cancer risk from air toxins than do residents of nearby rural areas”. And can you guess who was on that list? Yes, indeed Clairton Coke Works was number three.
I think a stand needs to be taken. There are policies in place like the Clean Air Act; it is just is not getting enforced so nothing is happening. Companies that are causing this air pollution are carrying on with business as usual, while the communities they are in face a great risk of cancer. Pittsburgh has come a long way since being the steel city with black air. And that right there might be the problem. We as citizens can no longer see the danger we are in. But the research proves that it is still there.
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